Work experience is a wonderful prospect- a chance to dive into veterinary practices, farms, kennels and rescue centres, across the country and do all the jobs that any sane person would flat out refuse to do, in your precious spare time… for free. It is recognised by all animal establishments as an opportunity for free slave labour. And it’s one of the many requirements to get into veterinary school.
Questions about it are echoed across the vet forum, for example- I have worked at every farm and every veterinary practice in Devon for at least 2 months, I own my own kennels and have worked at a stables for 10 years… do I have enough work experience? Where can I find a farm? What do I do when I get there? Do I need wellies? Have I got foot and mouth? Are the cows likely to eat me? Does it takes 7 years to be a vet? And so the story goes… So to stop the repetitive questions and to consolidate all advice into one place I’ve made a giant, and hopefully helpful, shiny bible on work experience (imagine something like the big red book of this is your life- if it wasn’t virtual it would be that).
Please read it before asking questions, and if you do have any, ask them below so that they aren’t scattered across the forum like chocolate chips in a muffin.
It can be a lot of work- often involves a shifting whole pile of poo, getting up before the sun has even thought about it , ‘putting the kettle on’ and other general recognised slavery tasks without a penny in return!
But while you are stood their with your mop, cleaning up after Snuggles the dog who has lost control of his bladder again, there is a lot you can learn just by watching- see how the vet copes with aggressive dogs, watch how animals are restrained, look out for routines they repeat and then ask if you can help once you’ve got it. Ask endless questions- you’ll be sick of the sound of your own voice and may think that the question sounds dumb , but its not, and if you don’t know the answer now you’ll feel even stupider if you don’t know it when asked later on by an interviewer/ lecturer or many years down the line by a client!
If you are torn whether, on the one hand, to go into veterinary or, on the other hand, to go for some other career; work experience will let you see what you can realistically get from the career, and if you can stick out the placements and enjoy them then its probably the job for you!
How much of your life should this take up?
This really depends on how long you’ve got before you apply and which uni you’re looking to get a place. The minimum requirements for the various uni’s can be found on their websites and in their prospectuses - I refuse to spoon-feed you, get off your arse and look! But I will say that Liverpool asks for much more than the other uni’s so if your heart is set on there or if you don’t want to narrow your options then I’d aim to fulfil their requirements- that amount will be plenty for the other uni’s as well!
I’ll also say the following are pretty much essential;
- Large animal practice
- Small animal practice
- Kennels/ Cattery/ R.S.P.C.A etc
- Work with some farm like creature (e.g. pigs cattle etc)
What each uni stipulates is the bare minimum so if you have more time and want to make your personal statement gleam then you are best to get more. Remember the course is ridiculously competitive so the more you have, the better! Everyone with a realistic chance of an offer will have ensured that they get the requirements (unless they have their reasons) so with the minimum under your belt you’re looking at an application form identical to the majority of other applicants, so to help read on…
The icing on the cake
If you have time to do more than the minimum, your options are to;
Do extra weeks at different vet practices, farms, stables etc; going to different places will let you see how routines and procedures vary from place to place.
Try and get a Saturday job with animals (local vet practices are sometimes an option), even if its voluntary, to boost your application. This will show commitment as you’ve worked there over a longer time period- working at a vets every Saturday for 6 months looks better than working at a vets for 1 week. You will also learn more, get better references and they will begin to trust you so give you more responsibility- I remember the first time I was allowed to monitor an anaesthetic it made my week…
Try and get more outlandish placements to help make you stand out, some suggestions include;
- Zoos- they are hard placements to get but will show your dedication and are very interesting (make sure it will involve working with the animals and not behind a counter)
- Abattoirs (only 1 or 2 days max needed)
- Racing tracks
- Seal sanctuaries
But be original and don’t go over the top- one or two of these would be plenty.
Now, having said all that, DON’T panic if you don’t have time to do more than the minimum- this is just extra stuff you can do to help out your application if you can! Some people say that going over the minimum is a waste of time as they got offers without doing any extra… if that’s a risk you’re happy to take then do so, but remember you’ll kick yourself if you don’t bother and then don’t get any offers!
How to get placements
If you are currently contemplating suicide because the placement is 40 miles away, you don’t drive and the bus only leaves at 8 pm on a Sunday, or perhaps because you have just received back the umpteenth letter describing how there are ‘no placements available’, ‘no insurance for volunteers’ or simply ‘no animals’ at the places you wish to do work experience, then don’t worry- everyone goes through this (its often a load of bull to weed out the people that aren’t really interested)!
- Yellow pages
- Your eyes (obvious but you often miss farms/ practices if your not looking for them)
- The internet
- Word of mouth (you’ll be amazed at how many people your local farmer knows- one placement will soon lead to another)
- [In the Forums http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=349634]
- Write in- some people swear by this, its formal and will create a good impression, however its slow- you often wait weeks for replies and it doesn’t really spur them into giving you a placement
However if you aren’t getting anywhere then seriously- get off your arse and do something;
- Ring them up- Its often better to take a more forceful approach than writing- this way gives you an instant reply, if they decline its worth asking to speak to the vet/owner, if they take down your number its unlikely they will ring you back- so that bits up to you to keep pestering them until they get the message that you are serious!
- Email- if you don’t like using the phone, emailing is much quicker than writing
- Drop in- go in and speak to them in person- they get to meet you, see that you are serious and will work hard and its often harder to say no in person
- Get introduced- if the placement is a friend of a friend, ask them to introduce you- people are more likely to help out a friendly face. If you have animals, go along on vet visits and mention it to the vet when you meet them (especially useful with horse vets if your lucky enough to own one of those 4 legged critters). If you have a farm placement ask the farmer if they can introduce you to their vet… you get the idea.
Keep on mithering (unless its due to insurance reasons- then they really can’t take you and you’re likely to just piss them off) one vet once said to me that they just bin letters because its usually some lazy toad from high school who doesn’t know what else to do with their work experience week- prove that you aren’t that toad!
Getting there: Sometimes these places won’t be easy to reach- a lot of people don’t live near to farms etc but you have to put yourself out- its unfortunate but the uni’s wouldn’t accept ‘I couldn’t get there’ as an excuse for your pitiful amount of work experience. Remember again, this is competitive and its hard work, put in the effort and you’ll get there!
- Public transport- it might mean stupidly early mornings but it has to be done- other people will do it
- Parents- some parents will be willing to give you a lift if you’re lucky
- Drive- if you get the chance, learn to drive and get a car, it will make life MILES easier!
- Live in- if you have to travel a considerable distance ask if they would be able to put you up- people can be very accommodating when they hear your predicament and you may be lucky enough to get a room for free on site
- Cycle- if there’s no public transport then it may mean some early mornings and a long hike- if you want it badly enough you’ll do it, plus you’ll have bulging calves when your done!!
- Plead your arse off- the uni’s don’t often fall for sob stories but if you are seriously struggling to get a certain placement say so on your personal statement/ at interview, explain that you have exhausted all possibilities and just can’t get there- if its truly impossible they may give you brownie points for trying…
What to wear
Use your common sense- don’t wear your best mini skirt and Gucci hat!
For a farm you’ll need wellies (steel toe caps are useful and save a great deal of pain), and some old clothes (once you get to uni you’ll need boiler suits so investing in those now might be an idea!).
Vets usually like you to dress smart/casual but again don’t wear your best suit or anything, you will get blood/poo/moggy fur on you so be warned.
Stables- if your horsey throw on your jodhpurs, stable boots etc, if not wellies/walking boots/possibly trainers and old clothes will do!
Kennels- walking boots/trainers and old clothes
Ring up and ask if you’re not sure- they’ll be glad your showing enthusiasm!
Busying yourself whilst there
Like I said before ask questions, watch, use your initiative when you can- its good to keep busy, but be careful; some tasks might be dangerous. You're not stupid- decide for yourself what its safe for you to help out with, ask if you’re not sure! Look keen even when shovelling poo- they’ll be more likely to let you go back and to give you a good reference! These people are good contacts for the future!
Be open minded and learn from the people working at the establishments- they’re experienced and have a good wealth of knowledge!
Most importantly keep a diary- you will forget what you’ve done and you can’t afford to do that because you’ll have to talk about it when you get to interview! Note down what you did, what you saw, try and find out why it was being done (ask them/ use the internet etc), write down any questions you threw at them and the answers they threw back! Describe interesting cases, the breeds you worked with, worming processes etc, anything you think will be good to write down do! It will become a handy pocket sized resource to help you prepare for interviews- they will expect you to be able to witter on about your placements forever and know them inside out!
Its not essential to get them from every placement, but it certainly won’t harm- definitely get one good reference from a vet practice at the VERY least!
Ask for them to write one a couple of days before you’re due to end your placement so that you can collect it on the last day, if they leave it to collect later its highly likely they will forget to do it or even who you are so the reference won’t be as good! Its best to ask the person who knew you best to write it and then get the owner to sign it- then its more personal and will look better!
Sometimes the placements will ask you what you want including (or even ask you to write it yourself) and this is like Christmas come early; you can boast about your qualities and make it look like someone else has done it!! Ask them to comment (truthfully) on (obviously emit any that will be bad- if you know you’ve been late etc);
- Time keeping
- Confidence/ ability around animals
- Confidence/ ability with people
- Use of initiative
- Whether or not you’ll make a good vet
If you haven’t got any references it might be worth going back to the places that you worked at- pray that you made a good enough impression on them to make you be remembered (and not for killing a rabbit or something)! If not then other people have gone without them and still got offers so its not the end of the world!!
What to put in your personal statement
Completing all this work experience is useless if you can’t talk it up into a frenzy in your PS. This is where that diary comes in (if you didn’t keep one then try and remember what you did- use the internet to find out what goes on in your average dairy farm, stables, vet practice etc). Make sure the uni’s know how many places you went to, and what you got from them! If you had to travel 84 miles on camelback just to get there- say so (…if your parents ferried you there it might be an idea to omit that bit)! Anything that will show your good side- scribble down, you have to sell yourself and don’t have much time to do it!
Some people say to write down the time spent at each placement. This can help but as the space is limited and some uni’s ask for this separately it isn’t overly essential, just noting down the time spent at your longest placements might be an idea.
Try and describe what you learnt from your placements- it’s a good alternative to just listing them; just as a thought- you could say what qualities you used whilst there, how it made you feel, what it taught you about the career, what it made you realise, what you learnt etc etc. Personal statements are a whole other plate of fish- try and be original with them- they’re a bastard for space- you have to fit your life onto a page and make it witty, eye catching and interesting; good luck with that…
Also if you want to buy extra time you are able to put down what you have planned to do as well. As long as its truthful and booked for before any potential interviews arise (that way you can talk about them at interview; despite the fact that I'd said I was yet to do my abattoir placement in my personal statement, my Bristol interviewer still questioned me about it, relentlessly, for 10 minutes, before finally getting the message that I hadn't lied, I was just simply saving it for later) then its an sneaky way of cadging an extra few months. Write something like 'I have booked so long at such and sucha farm'- and it will be counted!
After travelling around half your county, throughout the whole of summer, collecting work experience, whilst your friends are living their life like normal teenagers and young adults , just think… you are one step closer to being accepted and entering onto a course which requires you to repeat the above process, and write thoroughly about it, all over again in your first year! But its well worth it so good luck!
Originally take from this thread in the Veterinary Medicine forum.